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Sports these days: ‘Whine and roses’

Sep 28, 2004 8:30 AM

We are in the days of whine and roses in American sports. In track and field top athletes are whining about drug tests. 

In the National Football League, the brass are whining, or at least worried, about scandal, so much so that they are advertising what nutritional supplements are safe for their giants to bulk up on without showing positive tests.

In horse racing, the leading money-winning and race-winning owner in the country, Michael Gill, is whining about two of his horses testing positive at Saratoga, where his stable won more races than any other.

In college football, only three weeks or so into the season, coaches already are whining about the officiating.

Gill is an interesting case. Hugely successful, he has been turned away from more than one track, which he attributes to his domination. He established his own training center as an antidote, shipping horses to tracks from there. The latest is not his first encounter with positives, and not his first loud complaint. He believes he and his trainers are being persecuted, and has threatened to quit the game.

In his latest complaint, he dismissed the two positives lightly, saying they are used commonly by other trainers — a rather odd defense — and that the charges against him are part of a conspiracy against his stable orchestrated by the New York Racing Association and its officials.

New York’s testing is done by Cornell University, the home base of one of the leading racing chemists in the world, Dr. George Maylin. Two of Gill’s horse, including one which romped by six and a quarter lengths, tested positive last month at Saratoga for the sedative fluphenazine. The drug is prohibited in New York racing, and results in disqualification and withholding of purse money.

Gill told the weekly Thoroughbred Times, "When we went to Saratoga, we knew we put ourselves in harm’s way. I knew they’d try to make us look like bad guys, but I decided to skip the eight hours and beat those guys anyhow." He said he would swear "on his five kids’ lives" that he would be exonerated, and that he would be "willing to bet Jesus" that he will suffer no consequences because of the positive tests.

He may well be right. It took five years for the New York Racing and Wagering Board to act on a positive test involving Flanders, a filly owned by the legendary W. T. Young and trained by D. Wayne Lukas.

Gill thinks Barry Schwartz, who runs the New York Racing Association, and other track operators, have a vendetta against him, dating to a weird incident last year at Gulfstream Park in which the amputated leg of a Gill-owned horse that died created a furor.

Gill claims that Schwartz asked the New York lab to scrutinize tests on his horses. Schwartz says he wouldn’t dignify the accusation by answering it, and said Gill was fantasizing, noting that Gill’s horses had four positives since he started racing at Saratoga last year.

Gill did not deny the drug was used, but said it was administered weeks before the race and could have had no effect on the races in question. He told the Thoroughbred Times, "I already have money. I’m already rich, so I don’t need to cheat."

  In college football, the taste of whine came from the new coach at Arizona, Mike Stoops, crying about bad officiating in last Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. He sent tapes of what he said were missed infractions to the Pac-10 office, and disputed a false start call, calling it "marginal at best." That’s known as subjective judgment, Mike, by people paid to make the decisions.

Stoops is under heavy pressure to succeed at Arizona, which is accustomed to perennial national ranking with its basketball teams but has had disastrous seasons in football in recent years. Stoops’ arrival was greeted as a second coming, and season ticket sales are up sharply. He may well restore winning ways to the Wildcats — his team’s performance against ranked Wisconsin was credible — but it would be nice if it were done to the taste of champagne, rather than whine.